Saturday, March 21, 2009

Guest Post: Simple Food Served With Love

My father recently returned from a trip to Guatemala, where he and a group of Rotarians partner with local schools and communities to install clean drinking water systems. He was so excited about the food he experienced on this trip that I thought it would be fun if he wrote a guest post for the Tiny Kitchen detailing his experiences. Like all local, rural food, the meals he ate were humble, but made with so much care and reverence for not only the ingredients but for the honored guests who would be sharing it. The people of rural Guatemala are very poor, yet they eagerly gave what they had to feed these new friends. It is amazing to think about just how generous people who have so little can be. Here is what my father had to say about his trip:

Food is never more tasty as when served simply and with love. It was my privilege to travel recently in Guatemala to be on the receiving end of such meals. A group of us were checking up on a water purification project installed two years ago at the Las Flores School in Salcaja, Guatemala and rewiring the computer lab at that same school so that all of the computers (donated by another group) would work at the same time.

We arrived at Las Flores School early in the afternoon and began work. A couple of hours later we were served a lunch of Guatemalan tamales and freshly prepared papaya juice. The tamales were made by wrapping a paste of rice flour in banana leaves with a piece of chicken, red sauce called “ricardo,” an olive and a few raisins. They were, as are all the best tamales, cooked in lard and carefully unwrapped by someone who cares. Pictured in the photo unwrapping one for us is the Principal of the school, Carolina.

Two of our group had the additional task of checking in on a water system located in the village of La Cumbre. After lunch we drove the 45 minutes up the hill to the church in La Cumbre and made our inventory of the system to get ready for the next day. They fed us. A plate of radish slaw, cucumber slices, pickled beets, a piece of fried chicken from the popular Pollo Campero restaurant, and the best, freshest, warmest and most fragrant tortillas of the trip. I can still smell and feel the wonderful sensation I had when I pressed one flat to my nose and mouth. Heaven will be like this.

The next day, back at Las Flores School, lunch came around about 2, after we took a couple of the older girls on an errand for Carolina into the town of Salcaja. They picked up the chicken fresh from the butcher and took it back to be cooked into Caldo de Pollo (chicken noodle soup). We were served a perfectly seasoned blend of chicken broth, shell macaroni, onions, big chunks of carrot and potato, and a piece of chicken with bones and all. This time the meal was served with freshly prepared sandia (watermelon) juice and fresh tortillas almost as good as those from La Cumbre.

The next morning we were taken to the restaurant owned by our host in Quetzaltenango ( called Xela) where we were staying. The meal of eggs, ham, refried beans and tortillas was typical of what Guatemalans have every day for breakfast, but our host included some special treats. Cambray is a sweet masa tamale with raisins and cinnamon and sugar. A Chuchito is a savory tamale made with masa and filled with the ricardo sauce mentioned above. The name of the restaurant in Xela is Luminar. Rosa’s cooking is worth the trouble to find.

Later that day we celebrated with the teachers and children of Las Flores School and, you guessed it, they fed us. This time the meal was Enchiladas, which means meat and vegetables served on crispy tortillas with jalapeno and other peppers ready to be added when needed. The juice served was made from bananas, but we were honored with an additional drink. Caldo de Frutas (fruit soup) begins when someone in Salcaja, which is famous for this concoction, distills liquor (illegally) and pours it over fruit (apples, cherries, pears) that has been sliced (not peeled) and put in a jar. The jar is sealed and buried in the ground for six months. When it resurfaces the liquor is poured off and served and the fruit is eaten, carefully. There was more liquor in the fruit than was poured off to drink. This is quite a treat and is completely local to Salcaja.

That night was our last in Xela and we were treated to a fabulous Guatemalan Churasco (bar b que) at the home of our host. On the menu was chicken, beef, chorizo and longoniza (sausages), onions, jalapenos, and the special sweet bean filled bananas called Platanos. All of this was served with love and the fun of quite a lot of Gallo Cervaza (beer) made and distributed in Guatemala, but available in most import stores in the U.S. Yours truly added some California wine brought from home.

The rest of our meals were taken in restaurants and two of them do deserve mention. In Antigua La Cuevita de los Urguiza allows you to point at the main dish stew that you want, add two side dishes, order your drink and sit in the courtyard to eat. We eat there every time we are in Antigua, which is one of the great tourist destinations in Guatemala. Our last meal in the country was taken in Guatemala City at the Nessun Dorma, Ristorante e Bar. This is one of the more elegant meals I have ever been served. The charming matre de turned out to be the owner and the head chef. He checked on us several times during the meal and shook our hands as we left. The food, by the way, was fabulous. I had the lobster ravioli, my daughter the spinach ravioli with gorgonzola sauce, others in our party had beef tenderloins with gorgonzola sauce, seared tuna steak, and salmon. I recommend both of these places if you are ever in Guatemala.

I am home now, but can still close my eyes and smell those fresh tortillas and feel the love with which they were served.


foodhoe said...

hola tiny kitchen, thanks for the linky love! all of that food your father photographed sounds so fantastic, homemade tortillas and those enchiladas look delicious too.

miss v said...

holy smokes, that sounds like foodie-overload. in a perfectly awesome way, of course!

Sagacious said...

I love it - simple honest food is always the best! I can almost taste the tortillas as he describes them. Thanks for sharing.

foodbin said...

nothing beat home made food-these are eye opening food not only for me, for others too!